By Emma Hooper
Her test results were conclusive. It was the news she had been dreading – she was infertile, at just 20 years old.
“I’m devastated,” says ‘Jessica’, a Kingston University student. “I’ve been given a slim chance I’ll ever have children. I’m so young, but I don’t feel young anymore, I feel old and useless. My boyfriend didn’t only cheat, he tore apart my future, and a lifetime worth of happiness with my own children. I hate him, but hate myself for not having regular checks and being too trusting, even in a relationship.”
Kingston Hospital’s Sexual Health Centre diagnosed 800 cases of Chlamydia last year. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease rates have been rapidly increasing – 123,000 incidents last year, largely affecting under 25s. Jessica, just like one in every 10 women who have developed Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is left with fertility problems.
Tests to find the cause of her intense stomach pains revealed Jessica now has less than a 10 per cent chance of ever conceiving. Her specialist suggested the pain could be linked back with a case of Chlamydia, resulting in Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
Jessica is now paying the price of having a long-term relationship with a cheating boyfriend. “I never expected him to have been with anyone else, he just didn’t seem the type. I’ve been torn into pieces by this, my boyfriend made me infertile,” she says, looking down at her feet. Jessica takes a pause to pull herself together, haunted by what has happened.
“Friends told me he’d been bragging about keeping the Chlamydia from me for a year after we split. I was instantly filled with rage, I still am. He caught it from someone he’d been seeing towards the end of our relationship. I went for checks at the sexual health clinic straight after I found out that my ex had Chlamydia. I was told I had Chlamydia, given a course of antibiotics, but my stomach pains, Cystitis and irregular periods were all signs I had developed Pelvic Inflammatory Disease after being undiagnosed for almost two years,” she explains.
The sexually transmitted disease had been given time to spread, causing damage likely to be irreversible to her reproductive system. She developed excruciating stomach cramps, but brushed them off as period pain. Jessica’s GP referred her to hospital for tests. There she had a laparoscopy – the surgeon inserted a thin camera tube through a small incision near her belly button. The laparoscopy showed scar tissue on both Fallopian tubes caused by Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, triggered by Chlamydia.
It’s now unlikely Jessica will ever conceive without fertility treatment to achieve her dreams of motherhood. “I didn’t think about it affecting my chances to have children,” she says, full of doubt. “I didn’t worry. Nothing ran in my family so I’ve never seen a reason to consider it.”
Fertility specialist, Dr Geeta Nargunde, head of reproductive medicine at St George’s Hospital in London, says recent evidence shows declines in fertility across the UK. “Not just women in their 30s, but women in their late 20s are also experiencing more fertility problems. This is largely down to lifestyle factors, such as being either vastly underweight or overweight, smoking and, of course, unprotected sex which can lead to Chlamydia,” he explains.
Recent figures show more women than ever before are now faced with fertility treatment in the UK. “There isn’t a doubt that lifestyle factors can have a negative impact on fertility,” confirms fertility expert Michael Doogley, an NHS Consultant Gynecologist.
In December this year, Jessica will have surgery to remove some scar tissue on her womb, in hope of improving her chances of one day becoming a mother. “I always wanted a family and dreamt of being a mum. I’m starting to come to terms with the small chances of that dream ever coming true,” the 20-year-old says, determined. Before the disaster, Jessica had planned on having children within the next five years.
Just before term started, tests showed she had stopped ovulating. A specialist prescribed the drug ‘Clomid’ to help stimulate her ovaries. However, further tests showed it made no difference.
Not only was she infertile, but unable to qualify for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) on the NHS until she reaches 25. National guidelines state that fertility treatment should be available to women aged 25-39. However, not all health authorities will provide this so young. Jessica’s only chance will be to fund a course of treatment on her own, but with one dose of IVF costing at least £3,000, she cannot see herself affording it.
“My parents keep talking about how great adopting can be, but I know that can take years. To have my own, all I can do is save for IVF, so when the time comes for me, I’ve got some money to at least try having a baby,” she says in a hopeful voice. “For young women reading this, I really beg you to look after your sexual health, because you never know what could happen long-term if you don’t. I hope this raises the awareness that I missed out on.”
Out of shame, Jessica told her current boyfriend to leave her. But he refused, vowing to stand by her. “Having him by my side has made this a little less of a nightmare,” she says, forcing a smile.
Advice & Support
• Go to your GP, or a sexual health clinic for testing and treatment. All services are confidential. You can also ask a pharmacist.
• You can call FPA’s helpline – 0845 122 8690 or the NHS Sexual Health Helpline – 0800 567 123.
• Visit www.sexualhealthkingston.co.uk for more local information.
What is Chlamydia?
• A common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) affecting both men and women.
• Most of those affected do not notice anything wrong, no symptoms – often called a ‘silent infection’.
• If left untreated Chlamydia may lead to serious problems such as infertility.
• Use a condom. A condom worn during intercourse provides good protection against Chlamydia infection.
• Have an STD check-up, including a Chlamydia test.